Hiking To Goat Lake: The Most Unreal Lake In Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains

The hike to Goat Lake is one of the best hikes in the Sawtooth Mountains. In case you haven’t heard about this fabled lake yet, it is an alpine lake with unreal turquoise-colored water that is cradled by jagged mountain peaks.

Goat Lake Hike In Idaho

Because this trail is difficult and involves some climbing, it is not as popular as some of the other hiking trails in the Sawtooth Mountains such as the hike to Sawtooth Lake. But if you’re up for a challenge, this trail will lead you to one of the most beautiful lakes in Idaho!

Goat Lake Trail Details

  • Distance: 8 miles return
  • Elevation Gain: 1,788 feet
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Best Time To Hike: July to September
  • Trailhead: Iron Creek Trailhead
  • Permit: Required and free. Self registration at trailhead.
  • Camping: Yes. At Goat Lake.
  • Dogs: Allowed. Leash required July 1st to Labor Day.

How To Get To Goat Lake

The hiking trail to Goat Lake begins at the Iron Creek Trailhead which is located six miles southwest of Stanley. To reach this trailhead, take Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway (Highway 21) to Sawtooth National Forest Road #619.

Follow this narrow dirt road until the end where you will find the Iron Creek Trailhead. Be aware that the forest road to Iron Creek Trailhead is an extremely bumpy road which seems to get worse every year so take it slowly if you don’t want anything bad to happen to your vehicle.

Also keep in mind that Iron Creek Trailhead is a very popular trailhead during the summer months. Because the parking lot here is small, it gets full very quickly in the mornings. To increase your chances of getting a parking spot, be sure to arrive as early as possible.

If you are contemplating camping in the area, there are plenty of campsites along this stretch of dirt road, all primitive camping though of course. However, even with all of the campsites that are available here, you can be sure most of the sites will be taken if you wait until the afternoon to claim a spot.

Starting The Goat Lake Trail

The hiking trail to Goat Lake begins at the Iron Creek Trailhead which is the same trailhead used to reach stunning Sawtooth Lake. The first stretch of this trail follows alongside Iron Creek for a little over a mile. Once you officially enter the Sawtooth Wilderness, you’ll come across a marked junction. Turn left at the junction and start following the Alpine Way Trail.

There will be a stream that you need to cross. You can take your shoes off and wade through the shallow water or balance across the log jam that will get you across nice and dry like we did.

From the creek crossing onwards, the hiking trail immediately begins to ascend rather steeply traveling through a heavily wooded section.

Hiking Through The Forest To Goat Lake In Idaho

Eventually you’ll pop out of the forested area. This is a section of the trail that travels along the edge of a mountainside where you can enjoy some very spectacular views. Be sure to take a moment to look back at the valley you just hiked up from and soak in the incredible mountain and valley views.

During our hike in early July, it was still “spring weather” so we were fortunate enough to see an explosion of wildflowers across the mountainside along this section of the trail.

After hiking through this first clearing, the trail heads back into the forest for what feels like another mile before reaching a second clearing. When the hiking trail emerges from the forest, you’ll be on the other side of the mountain facing towards Stanley. Directly to the right will be majestic Williams Peak and in the distance are the White Cloud Mountains.

This is a good spot to stop and enjoy the views and take a minute to catch your breath. From here, it gets really tough!

As you make your way along Goat Lake Trail towards Goat Lake, you might notice a mammoth-sized cascading waterfall. This cascade named Goat Falls is a whopping 650-feet tall! It is in fact, Idaho’s tallest waterfall!!

A Waterfall On The Goat Lake Hiking Trail In The Sawtooth Mountains
Goat Falls

Looking at the photos above, you can see grey clouds were beginning to pass over us. There was a possibility of rain so we were tempted to turn around at this point, especially because the weather in Idaho is so unpredictable, but since we had come this far and had less than a mile to go, we were determined to reach Goat Lake.

This Is Where The Goat Lake Hiking Trail Becomes Difficult

At a certain point along the hiking trail you will come to a dead end. If you’ve gone all the way to the end of the trail and come to a steep drop-off point, you have actually gone too far. You need to walk back a couple of feet until you’re standing in front of a big granite rock wall like in the photo below.

There is no hiking trail here. You will need to figure out the best way to climb up these large rocks. And there is no way around this section of the trail. It is very sketchy, and there isn’t anything to hold onto as you climb up.

If you’re afraid of heights like me, you might find this part of the hike daunting, but if you think it’s scary going up, let me tell you it’s even scarier going back down. Especially with the possibilty of rain in the forecast.

This climbing section of the hike to Goat Lake is the reason behind why this hiking trail is recommended for experienced hikers only. If you are not comfortable with climbing or going off trail, then you may want to turn around at this point.

I recommend wearing shoes with good grip to make scaling this rock wall easier. On this hike, I wore my joggers and I struggled getting up these rocks. My shoes did not have good grip so I kept slipping and it took me a few attempts to make it up.

Keep in mind, the rock wall is much steeper than what it looks like in the photos above, and as I mentioned earlier, there is nothing to hang onto to pull yourself up. You may slip on your first few attempts.

If there are other hikers around, you can watch and learn where the easiest place is to scale the rock wall, but if your party are the only ones there, you will need to figure it out on your own. In our experience, the sections that looked the easiest to climb were in fact the hardest.

After scaling the rock wall, you will be greeted by a massive rock scree. You will obviously need to make your way up this huge field of rocks. Be careful as you make your way up because most of the rocks are not stable. This section of the trail is also very steep so take your time if you need.

There is no official trail so it’s up to you which direction to head up. You’ll have two options; you can either go straight up, which will eventually lead you to the far nothern side of Goat Lake.

Or you can make your way over to the left side of the rock scree where you will come across a dirt trail that is much easier to hike up. As a guide, head towards the waterfall you will see ahead of you to the left. You will then need to find somewhere to jump across the small stream to get back on the hiking trail to Goat Lake.

The stream isn’t difficult to cross if you find the right place to get onto the other side. All you need to do is look for a spot where the rocks on either side are close enough to each other to leap from one side to the other. Once you cross the stream it won’t me long until you’re looking at Goat Lake.

From the rock wall to Goat Lake is only 700-feet so take comfort in knowing that this stretch doesn’t last for long. Trust me, the effort is worth it!

Goat Lake

Goat Lake In Idaho

Eventually you’ll reach the mesmerizing Goat Lake. The color of the lake is absolutely unbelievable! It is guaranteed to take your breath away with how astonishingly beautiful it is. The captivating scenery is unlike anywhere else, except for possibly Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park.

Seriously, the turquoise color of this lake is truly hypnotic. And the day we visited was overcast. I’d love to come back and see Goat Lake on a day with no clouds in the sky.

Depending on the time of year you hike up to Goat Lake you may even see a few floating icebergs. Typically, if it’s before mid-July there’s a good chance there will still be icebergs on the lake.

Now that you’ve made it to one of the most beautiful lakes in Idaho, be sure to take as much time to soak in the stunning scenery of the Sawtooth Mountains as you can.

Some hikers like to take a quick dip in the teal waters of Goat Lake. Just be prepared for freezing cold water. You probably won’t want to stay in for too long.

You might even want to fish for trout while you’re up here if you’ve brought your fly rods. The water is so clear that you can see small schools of trout swim by periodically.

We found some rocks overlooking the lake to enjoy our packed lunch. After eating and resting we hiked to the far end of the lake where the trail officially ends. It was worth walking the extra 0.3 miles or so to see the other side of Goat Lake.

The views from the other side of the lake are even more dramatic with the peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains towering above. If you have time, I highly recommend making the effort to reach the official end of the Goat Lake Trail.

Since we hiked in early July, there weren’t many other hikers on the trail. By the time we reached Goat Lake, there were only two other hikers up at the lake who left not too long after we arrived. It was incredible having the lake all to ourselves!

The lack of hikers probably had to do with the fact that it was fourth of July. And the threat of bad weather may have turned a few people off too. But we are glad we persisted because thankfully the bad weather just passed us by.

After snapping a few hundred pictures, we decided to haul ass back down to Stanley with the hopes of making it back in time to see the fireworks.

Going back down is actually a little trickier than going up. Only because there is no official hiking trail through the rock scree section so it was hard to remember which way we came up to retrace our steps.

I suggest making sure you remember which way you went up through the field of rocks so that you can make it back down without getting lost. Once you’ve made it back down from the big boulders the rest of the trail back down will be smooth sailing.

Fourth Of July Fireworks In Stanley, Idaho

We made it back down in time to catch the Fourth of July fireworks in Stanley. Since it was still early July, it was rather cold by the time we got back so it was nice to be able to get warm and cozy in our van while watching the fireworks from bed. It was such a nice way to finish off our epic hike to Goat Lake!

Tips For Hiking To Goat Lake

  • While there are several amazing hiking trails near Stanley, the trail to Goat Lake is definitely a bucket list worthy one. But please keep in mind that the hike to Goat Lake is best for experienced hikers. This trail is not clearly marked and does require the ability to climb.
  • Although the trail to Goat Lake is only four miles each way, the trail is very steep so be sure to allow a few extra hours just in case it takes you a little longer to reach the end. This way you’ll also get in some extra time at the lake, and trust me you will want to stay up there for at least an hour.
  • The weather in the Sawtooth Mountains is unpredictable so always check the weather in advance and be prepared for all conditions, especially early July and late September. There can always be freak snow storms and I am talking from experience.


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